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Editorial: Hillsborough School Board buries public comment

 
Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times  Teachers a part of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association rally and chant outside of a Hillsborough School Board meeting at the Hillsborough County School district offices in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday, Nov., 14, 2017.
Gabriella Angotti-Jones | Times Teachers a part of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association rally and chant outside of a Hillsborough School Board meeting at the Hillsborough County School district offices in Tampa, FL, on Tuesday, Nov., 14, 2017.
Published March 1, 2019

This is rich: Just weeks after imploring the community to pay higher taxes for school repairs, the Hillsborough County School Board pulled the plug on televising public comments at board meetings. This was a tone-deaf decision, and the board should reverse this embarrassing mistake.

Hillsborough voters delivered in the November elections after school officials waged an intensive campaign for a half-cent sales tax for school repairs. Given that Hillsborough voters agreed to cough up an additional $150 million a year for 10 years - taking on the highest sales tax rate in Florida - their generosity should have bought plenty of goodwill from the district.

Yet in January and February, the board discussed "reformatting" the board meetings to allow them "to run more efficiently," the district said in a statement. Rather than take public comments as part of the televised meeting, the board will now hear them a half-hour before the meeting begins. "Public comment is not about being broadcast," School Board chairwoman Tamara Shamburger told the Tampa Bay Times. "The whole point is to make sure the board hears from the public."

Shamburger misses the point entirely. The public comment period is intended to make average voices heard. Removing those from web and television broadcasts gives viewers a sterilized view of board proceedings and the public's involvement with its own school system. Shamburger seemed to appreciate the point when she first was elected in 2016, extolling on the need for greater community involvement in the schools. Talk about a short memory.

If the school board wants to make meetings more efficient, it can start by policing school board members who prattle on endlessly. Taxpayers deserve a visible role in the decision-making process.